Sometimes you spend days in the Kruger National Park and see nothing but antelope, but sometimes you get really lucky, like Nicki Güleş and her family did
t is possible to drive around the Kruger National Park for two days without seeing more than a herd of impala. I had prepared my children for this but, after entering at the Kruger’s Numbi Gate near Hazyview for a weekend off at the newly refurbished Sabi River Sun, it didn’t take long for the whining to start.
“Mom, I see what you mean. You really can go for *aaaaages* without seeing anything here,” sighed Tolga (8).
But then the most incredible thing happened. We saw four of the Big Five. In three hours. Like, really. It may have had something to do with the game-spotting superpowers of ranger Raymond Ndlovu.
My children’s first trip to one of the largest nature conservancies on earth – a capricious attraction who, depending on her mood, may or may not show you what she has to offer – and they (almost) got it all: a magnificent male leopard sauntering back and forth across the road, marking his territory, taking his own sweet time. Elephant aplenty, including a mother suckling her calf. Buffalo munching grass metres from the car. And a rhino mother and her calf right in front of us. They live! The only one of the Big Five they didn’t see was lion. And then there were the cheetah sunning themselves on a termite hill, an excitable family of spotted hyena, zebra, wildebeest and, yes, the impala.
Even Ndlovu, a ranger for Elephant Herd Tours who has worked inside the Kruger Park since 1981, was shocked at how much we saw. (Ndlovu, who hails from Mahushu, less than 10km from the Numbi Gate, knows about everything that goes on in the park. Not surprisingly, he has scored five-star rave reviews on TripAdvisor.)
The children were delighted. I had worried that they would be blasé after a morning at Elephant Whispers, a short distance from the resort, which is home to orphaned elephants, many of whose mothers were killed during the Kruger’s 1980s elephant-culling programme. Here you can interact with the giants, including one large bull who has learnt 130 commands.
If you’re into game-watching, the fabulous thing about staying at the Sabi River Sun is that it has its own hippo and crocodile pool, which you can sit safely beside, out of harm’s way, thanks to an electric fence. The hippos come up from the river in the morning and hotel staff close them in for the day. The gates are opened at night again, and guests can watch the hippos and their calves marching back down to the river for the night.
There are plenty of other things to do, like play golf on the 18-hole course (the only one in the area), or get a massage at the resort’s Eden Spa. There are also activities and entertainment for the children.
The hotel, which has been around since the 1930s, recently underwent a wide-ranging refurbishment – including the placement of buttresses on the outside of the building to give the place a more updated look. The family rooms sleep four comfortably, and the rooms have everything one would expect from a four-star hotel. The food is traditional SA fare, and there is pizza on demand.
For more adventurous tourists, there’s the marvellous zip-lining trail, the longest of its kind in Mpumalanga, through an indigenous Lowveld forest nearby, offered by Skyway Trails. Knowledgeable young guides assisted our group down the slides that are between 70m and 230m long. The children haven’t stopped talking about our weekend trip and are begging to return to the Sabi River Sun. But first I have to crack Ndlovu’s secret. God help me if, next time, they don’t get to see a lion too. The Güles family were guests of Tsogo Sun Sabi River Sun costs R2 505 for a family of four – dinner, bed and breakfast. Children under 16 years of age stay and eat breakfast for free. Dinner is charged for Elephant Whispers: R650 per adult and half price for children under 12 A Skyways Trails treetop challenge will cost R680 for a family of four
GIGANTIC The Güleș family next to Tembo the elephant at Elephant Whispers in Hazyview
RARE calf A exciting sighting of rhino and